When one envisions the gothic style, it is often tall churches with a pointed arch, flying buttresses, ribbed vaults and stained glass windows that first come to mind. Yet, this medieval style was not limited to architecture. Gothic decor and antiques such as art, furniture, rare ewelry, and other fine decorative arts emerged in the medieval age, and each inevitably found revivals and adaptations centuries later. Though the “Old World” Gothic period reigned for over 300 years, minimal original Gothic furniture has survived the test of time. Yet, the Gothic Revival of the late 19th century sparked a second love for the gothic style, breathing new life into the antiques of the period, which are still beloved today. Join us through a history of gothic antiques and design, beginning in the early 12th century.
Periods of “Old World” Gothic
The early period of Gothic style is also known as High Gothic and Early English. This period, which dates to about 1130— 1240, saw little furniture making in general. Only the wealthiest and most influential persons would have furniture, and often they would travel with it. Thus, this period was known for its movable furniture, which broke down or disassembled with ease.
Tables with removable tops, folding chairs, and collapsible bed frames were popular. Churches and monasteries, however, would have more elaborate furniture than the average person. Antique gothic furniture became popularized through its use and design in religious settings.
Early Gothic furniture was quite simple. Wood was the most commonly used material for furniture like Gothic chairs, with artisans in England and Germany primarily using oak, Italy and Spain using walnut, and France using chestnut. Additions of other decorative arts were few, most frequently being found on metal hinges. If other decorative motifs were present, they would appear as carvings.
The Rayonnant and Decorated period (1240—1350) re-focused on refining decoration and embracing light. Churches specifically welcomed three-dimensional sculptural works, mosaics, and columns. This attention to detail progressed in furniture, too. As furniture became more widely accessible over time, its decoration also became more apparent and elaborate. By the 14th century, cabinet makers had developed great skills in both execution and design, especially when it came to Gothic style furniture; some of the French masters include Pierre of Neufchauteau, Jean of Liège, Guillaume of Marcilly, Pierre and Guillaume Picheneau, and Phillippot Viard.
The Late Gothic period (1350—1550) embraced even more decoration in furniture and design — it became known for a new, international flamboyant style. The architecture of the Late Gothic period is the most recognizable. Rich, variegated tracery, decorated ribs, and arches over windows are just a few elements of this elaborate design scheme. More and more, the style was moving into the secular realm in all aspects of people’s homes and furniture, and it remained widely influential until the Renaissance age took Europe by storm.
Gothic furniture emerged as a statement of wealth and opulence since the furniture was a rarity in the 12th and 13th centuries. The 14th century, however, brought a more functional quality to Gothic furniture, which spread its popularity across Europe.
The armoire became an increasingly popular component of Gothic furniture – in fact, it was the focal point for many Gothic interiors. As interest in decoration and ornamentation in furniture grew, many armoires began to feature carved, architecturally-inspired designs. Pointed arches, trefoils, quatrefoils, and roses were common motifs; cutouts were also popular, as were wood marquetry designs and carvings of grape leaves and vines.
During the Middle Ages, a chair was associated with majesty and royalty – thus making it a scarce object for the everyday person. Those who did possess chairs in the 12th century had chairs featuring a low back with circular or rectangular seats. The 13th century saw chairs of lords use polygonal shapes, while the 14th century welcomed even more ornate designs, often resembling thrones.
Gothic design and style have found cycles of revivalism and adaptation throughout the centuries after its origin. First, the Gothic Revival period emerged in England during the late 18th century and flowed into the 19th century. But it did not only stay in Europe; the American colonies popularized the Gothic Revival, too. Architectural style circled back around to gothic designs, and furniture began to feature classic gothic motifs and styles of wooden, carved ornamentation. The conscious move toward gothic architecture and furniture came as a response to the neoclassical popularity of the time as the two are quite distant aesthetically.
Today, most gothic style antique furniture is from the Gothic Revival period. Very little has lasted from the original Gothic age, but the Revival has created some of the most exceptional and beautiful modern Gothic antiques, such as this musical Gothic clock, on the market today.